Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Manual review - putting the driver back in control

Manual gearbox brings new level of driver engagement to fiercest series production Vantage

We long since declared our love for the V12 Vantage S. But then what’s not to like about a small, beautiful coupe with a big, badass engine and a top speed north of 200mph? Not a great deal, that’s what.  

If there has been a criticism to level at the V12 Vantage S it’s that Aston’s fiercest and most driver-focussed series production Vantage has only ever been available with the company’s seven-speed paddle-shift transmission. It’s something that has always vexed the purists, but as the message from sports car manufacturers has long been ‘nobody buys manuals anymore’ few have predicted Aston would make the effort to equip the ageing Vantage with a stick shift. 

Subscribe to evo magazine

If you're passionate about the world's greatest performance cars, experience the thrill of driving with evo magazine. Try your first 5 issues for £5.

Consequently we were as pleasantly surprised as anyone at the low-key introduction of a seven-speed manual gearbox alongside the existing Sportshift III transmission. This is our first opportunity to, er, give it some stick.

Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time

With the V12 Vantage S the clue’s in the name. Lift the vented bonnet and you’ll find Aston’s familiar naturally aspirated 5.9-litre (even though they badge it 6.0) V12. Developing 565bhp at 6750rpm and 457lb ft at 5750rpm doesn’t have the headline-grabbing figures Ferrari manage to extract from their own big capacity V12s, but it still does the business, punching the Vantage to 60mph in 3.7sec and on to a mighty impressive 205mph.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The transmission is a manual version of the seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox. Aston has chosen to give it a dog-leg first gear - that’s to say located to the left and back, with second gear across and forwards. It’s a nod to old-school racing transmissions and really rather cool, at least if you’re geeky enough to appreciate that kind of detail. 

>Read our Aston Martin DB9 review

Technical highlights

It might be a retro transmission, but it has some hi-tech features, most notably the AMSHIFT function, which offers automated throttle blips on downshifts that make you into an instant heel-and-toe hero. Thankfully for those of us who have invested rather more of our lives than we should mastering the art for ourselves AMSHIFT is switchable. It also enables you to flat-shift up through the gearbox with the throttle pinned.

As a 17MY Vantage, it also benefits from Aston’s new and long-awaited ‘AMi III multimedia and sat nav system, which offers features including easier address input, faster loading times and updatable maps, plus Apple CarPlay iPhone integration.

What’s it like to drive?

Few cars on sale today offer what the V12 Vantage S delivers. The concept of putting your most potent motor in your smallest model is as compelling now as it was when the original V12 Vantage was launched back in 2008. As the S is a lot sharper more powerful and more aggressive you can imagine it makes for an explosive and unforgettable drive.

We’re effectively testing the gearbox rather than the whole car, but it’s worth recapping what the V12 Vantage S is all about. You have a choice of suspension settings, but none are exactly pillowy. Not that you’d expect that, but this is an unashamedly hardcore car. The cockpit has that effortless blend of quality and sporting purpose that Aston does so well, and the driving postion sits you low so you feel part of the car. There’s decent weight to all the controls and the steering has the added bonus of being hydraulic rather than electrically power assisted, so there’s old-school consistency of feel and response to match the whole car’s pure, simple focus. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

Handling-wise it offers strong grip and a supremely balanced agility that lets you cut through corners in clean, committed style. Multi-stage ESP keeps the rampant V12 reigned-in, but you need to be respectful as it’ll still wag its tail in the more sporting modes. Switch it off and you’re in for a brilliantly wild ride. Carbon brakes ensure massive stopping power, matched with impressive finesse. Same as it ever was, then.

>Read our Porsche 911 review

What’s the manual transmission like? On an emotional level it brings an immediate and more intimate sense of connection with the car. You have to think about what you’re doing. You have to plan ahead and match revs with road speed in a way that paddles simply don’t require you to do. If you share our love of driving, this is officially A Good Thing.

On a practical level this new dog-leg seven-speeder takes some learning, and not just because 1st gear is in a funny position. To be honest the V12 has so much grunt it’ll quite happily pull away in 2nd gear, so it’ll spare your blushes if muscle memory leads you to think 1st gear is in the normal place. Trickier is the tightness of the gate and a spring bias that favours the 4th/5th plane over those for 2nd/3rd and 6th/7th. In short unless you’re deliberate with your upshift from 2nd to 3rd you can end up slotting 5th instead.

It’s pretty annoying at first, though if you give it time you do get more comfortable and confident with the gearbox. If you aren’t prepared to make the effort to get to know it then you should probably opt for the paddle-shift transmission in the first place, but the flip-side of that is if you’re going to make the effort you should be rewarded with a great gearshift. The new seven-speeder isn’t a great gearbox, but nor is it a deal breaker. The AMSHIFT function is great for the heel-and-toe cheat, but the full-throttle upshift is more of a gimmick. Certainly by the time we had to hand it back to Aston, the added charm and connection offered by this manual V12 Vantage S had proved very seductive indeed. 

Rivals

None. At least if you want a V12 two-seater with a manual gearbox. Porsche’s 911 R shares the same ethos, but it’s not a series production car. In fact it was sold-out long before it went on-sale.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/toyota/supra/201871/toyota-supra-trd-3000gt-concept-to-star-at-sema
Toyota Supra

Toyota Supra TRD 3000GT Concept to star at SEMA

22 Oct 2019
Visit/hyundai/201867/400bhp-hyundai-imax-n-revealed-as-eight-seater-drift-monster
Hyundai

400bhp Hyundai iMax N revealed as eight-seater drift monster

21 Oct 2019
Visit/land-rover/discovery-sport/201862/2019-land-rover-discovery-sport-d180-se-review
Land Rover Discovery Sport

2019 Land Rover Discovery Sport D180 SE review

18 Oct 2019
Visit/volkswagen/201859/volkswagen-t-roc-r-review-ever-wish-the-golf-r-was-a-little-bit-taller
Volkswagen T-Roc

Volkswagen T-Roc R review - ever wish the Golf R was a little bit taller?

17 Oct 2019
Advertisement

More on V12 Vantage coupe

Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/10199/aston-martin-to-be-red-bull-racings-title-sponsor
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin to be Red Bull Racing's title sponsor

Building on its current relationship, Aston Martin is also strengthening its technical partnership on the racetrack and the road
25 Sep 2017
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/17596/aston-martin-v12-vantage-s-gets-dog-leg-manual
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S gets dog-leg manual

Old-school gearbox arrangement comes with modern auto-blip and flat-shift technology
6 Apr 2016
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/14521/aston-martin-v12-vantage-s-roadster-paris-motor-show-2014
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster: Paris motor show 2014

Aston Martin gives the public its first glimpse of the brand's fastest-ever convertible. Details here
3 Oct 2014
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/13906/aston-martin-v12-vantage-s-roadster-news-price-and-specs
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster news, price and specs

The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster is the British company's fastest, most potent drop-top yet
16 Jul 2014
Advertisement
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/13686/aston-martin-to-reveal-two-new-special-edition-models-at-geneva
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin to reveal two new special edition models at Geneva

Aston Martin will bring two new special edition cars to the Geneva Motor Show, the Carbon Black, Carbon White and V8 Vantage N430. Details here
19 Feb 2014
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/7321/aston-martin-v12-vantage-s-review-best-of-2013
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S review: Best of 2013

The new Aston Martin Vantage S fights Ferrari, Porsche and Mercedes as a 205mph supercar. And it's a cracker
19 Dec 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/13468/aston-martin-v12-vantage-s-pictures-and-video-frankfurt-motor-show
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S pictures and video: Frankfurt motor show 2013

The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S has been revealed at the Frankfurt motor show. Pictures, specs, UK prices and video here
11 Sep 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/13392/aston-martin-and-amg-to-join-forces
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin and AMG to join forces

Aston Martin plans to enter into partnership with AMG, which will see the German company supplying engines and components for Aston's future models
25 Jul 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/14296/ferrari-f12-v-lamborghini-aventador-and-aston-martin-v12-vanquish-the
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Ferrari F12 v Lamborghini Aventador and Aston Martin V12 Vanquish - Ferrari F12 v Lamborghini Aventador and Aston Martin V12 Vanquish: The reckoning

Enough with the introductions, it's time to find out if the Ferrari F12 has what it takes to match both of these V12-engined rivals.
21 Jun 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/13278/aston-martin-v12-zagato-scotland-drive
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin V12 Zagato Scotland drive

Armed with Britain’s finest supercar, the Aston Martin V12 Zagato, evo assesses whether an obscure Scottish route is the nation’s ultimate road
5 Jun 2013
Advertisement
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/13082/aston-martin-v12-vantage-roadster-review
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin V12 Vantage Roadster review

After three long years of waiting, the Roadster version of the Aston Martin V12 Vantage has finally arrived. To find out whether the lack of a fixed r…
19 Mar 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12994/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-one-77
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin One-77

Aston’s hypercar has all the credentials to compete with Bugatti and Pagani
19 Feb 2013
Advertisement
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12989/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-bulldog
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin Bulldog

Only one Bulldog was built, but this Aston hypercar still has the power to shock
6 Feb 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12993/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-dbs
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin DBS

initially seen as a DB9 in a bodykit, the DBS has emerged as a star in its own right
6 Feb 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12992/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-v12-vantage
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin V12 Vantage

Small car, big engine, huge performance… and simply one of the best Astons ever
6 Feb 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12995/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-vanquish-2012
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin Vanquish (2012)

The 2013 Vanquish is critical for Aston. Can it repeat the magic of the original?
6 Feb 2013
Advertisement
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12990/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-virage-vantage
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin Virage Vantage

Through the 1990s, Aston’s flagship was this twin-supercharged heavyweight
6 Feb 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12991/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-vanquish
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin Vanquish

As Aston entered a new millennium, it needed an all-new supercar. cue Vanquish!
6 Feb 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12964/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-v8-vantage-1977-1989
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin V8 Vantage (1977-1989)

When Italian supercars were getting wider and lower, this was a very British response
23 Jan 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12965/a-z-supercars-aston-martin-v8-vantage-zagato
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

A-Z Supercars: Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato

In the mid-1980s, Italian design house Zagato put its unique stamp on the V8 Vantage
23 Jan 2013
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12905/aston-martin-centenary-gallery
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin Centenary gallery

Aston Martin will be officially celebrating its 100th anniversary later in the month. Here's a gallery of some of the company's most memorable models
7 Jan 2013
Visit/news/evonews/287476/evo_magazine_february_2013.html
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

evo Magazine: February 2013

Aston Martin One-77 driven, BMW M3 CRT review, winter tyre test, Porsche 911 GT3 vs Renault Clio 200 Cup vs BMW M3 vs Subaru WRX STI
2 Jan 2013
Advertisement
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12873/aston-martin-announces-partnership
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin announces partnership

Aston Martin's main shareholder has sold a major slice of the company to former Ducati owners, Investindustrial.
7 Dec 2012
Visit/aston-martin/v12-vantage/12838/aston-martin-could-be-for-sale
Aston Martin V12 Vantage coupe

Aston Martin could be for sale

Aston Martin's major stakeholder is looking to sell its share of the company, according to media reports.
12 Nov 2012
Advertisement